When Disney’s 25th animated feature-length film The Black Cauldron hit theaters in 1985, it was an event 12 years in the making. The fantasy adventure had been stewing in Disney’s animation department since the ’70s, and a series of last minute changes had inflated the film’s budget to $44 million, making it (then) the most expensive animated film of all time. But within a year it was completely forgotten, and it wouldn’t be released on VHS in America until 1998. So what happened?
The movie, which was much darker than most Disney flicks, upset parents and company executives. Combine that with a very poor box office (it was beat by The Care Bears Movie) and you have a recipe for “the film that Disney tried to bury.”
The movie was based on a fantasy series called “The Chronicles of Prydain,” and inspired by Welsh myths and legends. It followed a farm boy called Taran on an adventure to rescue his pig Hen Wen and a magic artifact called the Black Cauldron from the evil Horned King.
Along the way, he had help from the bard Fflewddyr Fflam, princess Eilonwy (these Welsh names probably didn’t help the movie’s marketing) and a creature named Gurgi (whose voice is a dead ringer for Gollum from The Lord of the Rings).
While the film is still beloved by fantasy nerds, it was a headache for the studio, and almost finished Disney’s animation studios for good.
Click the next page to find out how Tim Burton almost made the film even scarier!
The Black Cauldron was groundbreaking in a lot of ways. It was the first Disney movie without any songs, so the score had to make up for that, and the soundtrack is still beloved today. It was also the first animated film from Disney to use computer technology, and it inspired a generation of fantasy nerds. Rumor has it that even the Legend of Zelda video games were heavily inspired by the movie.
Unfortunately, the dark and violent story just turned a lot of people off. This was released in between The Fox and the Hound and The Great Mouse Detective, so people weren’t ready for a horde of zombie warriors and a skeleton wizard.
Parents actually ran out of free tests screenings carrying their children, and Disney studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg tried to edit the movie himself after the producers pushed back. In the end, 12 of the scariest minutes were cut from the film (today you can find them on the DVD and Blu-ray).
We love the movie just the way it is, but it actually wasn’t frightening enough for one of the artists. A young Tim Burton drew concept art for this film before leaving Disney to start his own career, and he designed an Alien-inspired version of the Horned King.
We’re actually glad that didn’t make the cut, because it would have given us nightmares!
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